Mayoral candidates lead big fight over control of tiny Mettawa
Tiny Mettawa has a big battle on its hands for control of its village board.
Four years after supporting Mayor Casey Urlacher, challenger Thomas Lys is heading a political team trying to oust him and three incumbent trustees in the April 4 election. Among the issues are business retention and a Lake Michigan water pipeline extension.
Lys, a 66-year-old retired professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, said he believes he's "responsible for a mistake" by backing Urlacher's successful campaign in 2013.
"The village is badly run," Lys said. "Corporate governance is badly ignored. Financially, the village is in bad shape."
Urlacher, 37, who's self-employed, disagrees with Lys' portrayal of his nearly four years as mayor.
"When I was first elected, I promised to be hardworking, fair and transparent," Urlacher said. "I have done as promised. At a time when communities and the state of Illinois are suffering financially, we have the highest bond rating from Moody's available and we run a tight budgetary ship."
Urlacher also has an election foe not on the ballot. Former mayor Jess Ray, who supported Urlacher as his replacement in 2013, is behind Lys and his village board slate-mates.
With only about 575 residents and sprawling properties tucked away from busy Route 60, the stealthy town between Vernon Hills and Lake Forest has had lively elections. Most famously, the 2009 mayoral race ended in an election day tie. It was decided a couple weeks later when three late-arriving absentee ballots vaulted Ray over longtime incumbent Barry MacLean.
Urlacher tops the Keeping Mettawa Green slate, with incumbent trustees Denis Bohm, Mary Brennan and John Maier. Lys heads the Conserving Mettawa's Traditions slate with newcomers Cathy Nelson, Bob Price and Terre Cohen Tripoli as trustee candidates. Urlacher and Lys addressed issues in a Daily Herald editorial board endorsement interview and in candidate questionnaires.
Lys blamed Urlacher for being "asleep at the switch" and allowing computer retail giant CDW to move its Mettawa operations elsewhere in southern Lake County in 2015. He said the village reacted slowly and ultimately didn't do enough to entice CDW to stay.
"My complaint is, if you see a storm coming at you, you don't wait for the storm to break," Lys said.
Urlacher said CDW's departure was in the works before he took office. He said the village made overtures to the company but ultimately couldn't compete with what other communities were offering.
"We were being fiscally responsible to the village," Urlacher said.
Mettawa's 2016-17 budget shows a special service area for a water main extension established two years ago. The document states the zone was set up to bring Lake Michigan water through a pipeline extended near Old School, St. Mary's and Little St. Mary's roads and allows connections by 15 residential properties.
Lys said few residents will benefit from the pipeline extension, and that the mayor and his brother, retired Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, are among the Mettawa homeowners now receiving Lake Michigan water. Mettawa self-funded the project, paying a total of $750,000 from reserves in 2015-16 budget season, according to village documents.
Urlacher doesn't dispute he and his brother receive lake water, but contends the number of homes added to the pipeline is 31 so far. He said those property owners will be paying $3,100 annually for 20 years to cover the expenses.
"If we can get Lake Michigan water to more of our residents, why wouldn't we?" Urlacher said. "It's good water, and it improves the resale value of homes."
About 45 percent of Mettawa residents receive drinking water from the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency's pipeline. The other 55 percent use private water wells that are shallow to 1,000 feet deep, according to a village report.
While Urlacher has his well-known brother in his corner, Lys also has some star power behind him. Broadcaster Bill Kurtis and his wife, Donna LaPietra, hosted a brunch and resident get-together for Lys and his slate at their Mettawa estate on March 12.
• Daily Herald staff writer Charles Keeshan contributed to this story.